A few thoughts from a recent discussion about the theological/biblical concepts of justification and sanctification.
In the Bible, justification is law-court terminology and, therefore, judgment day terminology. When God justifies us, He judges us and declares that we are righteous — that is, in right relationship with Him. When we stand before God on that final day, that is what God’s judgment of us will be, because of the Lord Jesus Christ. Through faith in the Lord Jesus, we know ahead of time what that the judgment on that day will be.
Sanctification is God setting us apart as His own people, conforming us to the image of His Son and transforming us by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the work of God through and through. We do not conform ourselves, nor do we transform ourselves. Indeed, we cannot. It must be the work of God. By grace through faith.
In Ephesians, Paul says, “For we are His worksmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). This is sanctification. The workmanship is God’s, and therefore also the good works — they are His works. In Philippians, Paul tells us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). This, too, is sanctification, and again, the work is God’s.
We learn to live out the reality of that sanctification by daily choosing to allow the Spirit to control our attitudes and actions, conforming them to His. And by yielding our will to that of the Spirit, we are gaining a very practical salvation from the power of sin. This is sanctification in action.
Now, this yielding, choosing to allow the Spirit to control our attitudes and actions, is not a matter of human work or merit but is all about faith. It is trusting God to work in us by His Spirit. It is no more a work than receiving the gift of eternal life is. It is ceasing from our own works so that God may do His own work in us.
Through faith in Christ, we are already set apart as God’s people. That is a done deal. We are also saved from the power of sin. That is, its power has already been broken at the cross and it no longer has any authority over us. But there is also a sense in which we are presently being saved from the power of sin as we learn to yield to the work of God in us by the indwelling life of Lord Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.